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Thomas J. Elpel

PO Box 697
Pony, MT 59747
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Thomas J. Elpel
Author, Builder, Educator, and Conservationist

About Tom: Résumé | Books | Videos | Programs & Classes | Articles | News | Blog
Back to Nature: Experiential Education | Wilderness Survival | Botany | Conservation
Sustainable Living: Green Building | Green Economics | Green Energy

      "Tom Elpel, 51, has made "a career out of not needing a job." A fourth generation Montanan, Elpel founded Green University in 2004, an alternative learning environment where adults learn in-depth survival skills and total self-sufficiency. Green University's classes include, among others, "Meat Me in Montana," a deer-processing intensive course where students learn how to skin, butcher and can deer. It's useful for both traditional hunters, and roadkill collectors.
      "Some people like the sport of hunting, but the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to do it is just to pick up some nice roadkill along the highway," said Elpel, whose freezer is typically stocked with some combination of deer, elk, moose and antelope. (Bears, he noted, are not legal to pick up in Montana.)
      "You don't need any fancy gear or a gun, you just need to be available when you see it," Elpel said. "When I pick up road kill, I can process $200 worth of meat in three hours. But if I had a job, and I had to just drive past it to get to work, I'd only be making $10-15 an hour."

--Marco della Cava and Lindsay Schnell, USA Today
Forget burgers, roadkill could be on the menu soon in California

Tom Elpel's passive solar house in winter snowstorm.

Green Economics - Economic Renewal
Conservation as a Means to Prosperity

      The modern economy is based on massive throughput rather than conservation. People struggle to get by from month to month, paying a mortgage or rent, utility bills, taxes, insurance, car loans, fuel, groceries, college loans, and more. If they are laid off, or stop to breathe for any reason, they may be quickly overwhelmed and potentially bankrupt. If prosperity is like owning a yacht, it is a yacht full of holes. Some people seem to live a life of luxury, but stop bailing water for one moment, and the whole thing sinks to the bottom of the sea. One little hiccup in the economy, and suddenly millions of people are out of work and filing for bankruptcy.

Tom Elpel holding Green Prosperity in front of guest castle.       My own experiences may seem paradoxical on the surface. Admittedly, I've worked as hard or probably harder than most people, but more out of the desire to make a difference in the world than out of necessity to pay bills. I wasn't born into money, nor did I marry into it, yet I have only been employed for other people for eleven months of my life. My former wife and I were often poor by any conventional measure, yet we felt rich. We took months of vacation every year. The funny thing is that, even though we made less money than just about anyone else in town, we were the first people to install photovoltaic panels to generate all of our electricity from sunlight. We were rich in assests, yet rarely earned enough to pay income taxes.

      It is shocking to realize out thin the margin is that keeps us afloat as a mighty and prosperous country. As a nation, we consider our society the pinnacle of wealth and achievement, what people all over the world aspire to be. And yet, wherever I go, there are countless dilapidated houses, offices, and store fronts, where the owners are unable to keep ahead of basic entropy.

      The newest buildings and businesses seem to symbolize prosperity, but they are typically so inefficient that they are uninhabitable without constant inputs of fossil fuels. Like everything else, they will require continual maintenance to stay ahead of entropy, and the only way to pay for it all is through sustained massive throughput of products and services that are dependent on cheap oil. Businesses invest thousands of dollars into advertising to bolster sales, then hire additional staff to handle the workload, to ultimately make a profit of only pennies per unit of product sold, if they are lucky. The sad reality is that it wouldn't take much - maybe high oil prices on top of a big national deficit - to downgrade our country from a first-world powerhouse to an impoverished second-world has-been.

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.       The economic model I subscribe to is more about plugging leaks than bailing water - more about eliminating expenses than trying to spend one's way to prosperity. We have been prosperous not because I have sold millions of units of x or y, but because we avoided paying a mortgage, reduced our electricity consumption, switched over to solar power, didn't need insurance on the house, and had few other expenses, as detailed in my book Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.

      Having few expenses gave me freedom to pursue a career as a writer, working for many years before I managed to make my hobby pay for itself. Although I could have contracted with a publisher to sell my books, I formed my own publishing company, so that I make more profit per unit. Instead of merely getting the royalty from each book, I also get the wholesale income, and if I sell it retail, then I get the retail income, too.

Newspaper advertisements.       Instead of paying for advertising, which seldom brings much of a return over the investment cost, I've promoted my books by writing articles, earning a free plug for my books in the byline at the end of each piece. As the author, publisher, and promoter, I don't have to sell nearly as many books to make a decent living as I would if I were only a writer living on royalties. Unlike other writers who either "publish or perish," I don't have to crank out book after book to maintain a livable wage. I can afford to go back and revise and improve the books I've already published, maintaining modest but consistent sales over the long haul.

Newspapers with stone age and nature articles.       The funny thing about creating a sustainable civilization is that it isn't difficult to achieve. As detailed in Green Prosperiy, it is more economical to go green than to continue the way we are living now. Yet, everybody is too crazy busy trying to stay afloat to be able to transition to a sustainable lifestyle.

      I talk to people all the time who want to live more sustainably, but they are trapped working some crappy job, paying off college loans, and trying to keep up with mortgage, utilities, insurance, and repairs on a crappy house. It is a vicious cycle that requires spending money on car maintenance and gasoline to commute back and forth to work, while buying crappy fast food because it takes too much time to cook a wholesome meal from scratch. Going to the store to buy a replacement light bulb, they might want to buy that latest energy saving light bulb, but the reality is that it costs too much up front, so they are forced to buy a cheaper bulb that costs more in the long run. They become trapped in the treadmill and cannot find the means to break free.

Jars with sprouts.       There are many steps a person can take to break free from the treadmill and profit by going green. The return for the effort is directly proportional to the size of the commitment. Little steps, such as growing a garden in summer or sprouts in a jar through the winter, can shave a little bit off the monthly food bill while producing healthier, organic food and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Bigger steps, such as installing a solar water heater may require a greater up-front investment, but the long-term payoff is good in terms of reducing the monthly utility bill thereafter. Larger choices, such as selling an expensive house with a mortgage and moving into a $25,000 to $50,000 house in a town with a marginal economy can help eliminate the need for regular employment at all.

Lots of groceries from dumpsters.       For me, going green and conserving resources became a way of life. Little things add up, like picking apples in the fall off apple trees throughout the community. I chop and freeze them for a year-long supply of apple pies, save some to eat fresh, and squeeze the rest for apple cider. It is the modest things, like working from my home office so that I spend no time or money commuting back and forth to a job. It is the fun things, like vacationing for weeks at a time hiking or canoeing through some of the most scenic parts of our country at a cost of a few dollars per day. It is the quirky things, such as foraging in grocery store dumpsters for entertainment to bring home hundreds of dollars worth of free goodies, such as those pictured here. It is the big, entrepreneurial things, such as constructing low-cost, high-efficiency homes utilizing local natural resources and building materials rescued from the industrial wastestream.

Green University logo.       The art of going green is not always obvious, which is a principle reason why I was inspired to start our small-scale Green University® LLC to mentor people in sustainable living. Through G.U. it is my hope to incubate numerous green spin-off businesses, and to assist young people in making their dreams come true.

      One green business I would most like to incubate through Green University® LLC, or perhaps through political channels, is an idea I call "Co-op Montana." Co-op Montana would make it possible for stores and restaurants to place wholesale orders from any grower, producer, or manufacturer in the state through a single website and shopping cart, with delivery through a circular shipping service.

Greenhouse with rows of tomato plants.       At present, there are many growers and producers with small-scale operations, such as growing a limited supply of tomatoes or garlic. To get their products to market, they have to either hop in a car and drive a box of food to town, or pack a box for shipping and pay high fees to UPS or FedEx to transport the goods to the customer. The other option is to go big and mass produce an item in the hopes of securing a contract to ship the goods to an out-of-state distributor, who will then ship the product back to stores across the state.

      The Co-op Montana model would enable stores and restaurants to order from numerous small producers in one quick stop. Producers would pack and label their goods for each destination then meet the delivery truck at the nearest stop... turning every delivery point into a pickup point to minimize wasted time and expense. A program like this could provide a viable revenue stream for hundreds of small-scale producers, while providing cost-competitive and healthier food to Montana consumers. Delivery trucks could even potentially collect waste vegetable oil from restaurants along the route, dropping it off at a centralized processing station to be converted into biodiesel to power the fleet.

      Montana and our nation are woefully unprepared to deal with rising fuel prices and tight economic times. The sooner we go green, the sooner we can profit through a conservation-based approach to life and business. We can do it now and prosper, or we can do it later out of necessity and desperation, but one way or the other, we will convert to a green economy. It would be my preference to make a smooth transition, and I will do whatever I can to achieve that through either private or public means. On the private side, I may be able to one day incubate projects like this through Green University® LLC. On the public side, I would gladly get into politics and serve as a fiscally-conservative leader to help build a sustainable economy for Montana. I do not yet know which path I will follow, but I will continue to do whatever I can to help usher in an era of green prosperity for all.

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Interesting Stuff? Check out
Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams

See also: Escaping the Job Trap
Calories: The Currency of All Economies
Wealth & Work: A Ten Thousand Year Old Pattern


Green Prosperity book cover.       I've been reading Green Prosperity and I'm already saving every 5$ bill I get back, paying 900$ instead of 820$ on my mortgage and paying much more attention to where my money is going. As an artist/herbalist type, I've never gravitated to the study of economics. This book kind of tricked me into it! But I'm glad it did. This knowledge is empowering and keeps me from shrinking away when I hear things like "GDP", "Labor Surplus" and "Capital".

      I've been a check-to-check guy most my life, but as osteoarthritis eats away at my shrinking 38-year-old joints and my children begin their teens, I know I'm going to need to hold onto more cash as costs get higher. I'm blessed to finally look into this mysterious money world through the lens of this book. My children might be the first in my bloodline to avoid the crippling debt that has plagued my family since my first African ancestor was brought to American soil.

-- Monticue

      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
to Reality
Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids

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